The Bride of Amman by Fadi Zaghmout was first released in Arabic in 2012, but the English version, beautifully translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, has just hit the shelves.
Personally, I would have been tempted to call it The Brides of Amman because it looks at the lives, loves and destinies of not one but a group of women in Jordan's historic capital, Amman. With great empathy and compassion, the novel looks at the trials and tribulations of several young women coming of age in a country still deeply immersed in tradition, taboos and sexual inequality.
We discover Salma, under enormous pressure from her family and the community at large to find herself a husband now that she has reached the shamefully grand old age of thirty; Rana, embarking on a forbidden love affair with a man of the wrong faith; Hayat, who has been routinely abused by her father since she was just a child; Leila, Salma's younger sister, who discovers that life as a married woman isn't always all it's cracked up to be.
Women aren't the only social group to be oppressed and ostracised though. Being homosexual is seen as dishonourable and immoral so the gay community remains largely underground, victimised and harrassed, sometimes even seeking psychiatric help to be rid of the affliction or living a lie in marriage.
The universal themes of seeking love and happiness come through, with all the extra problems and hardships that the young residents of Jordan must deal with as they come of age in a tough social climate.
It's beautifully written, often understated but nevertheless powerful and poignant, and I was surprised to see that it was written by a man, as he really manages to get under the skin of his female protagonists and the complicated lives they are forced to live.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £13
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book in order to share my honest opinions.